I just returned from a quick two-day trip to Thailand, which up until this point in my travel life, has been my most “exotic” destination yet. You can probably tell by now that I’m not so much of an adventurous traveler, opting for quiet and comfortable destinations over wild and crazy adventures that most people my age tend to prefer. Hey – it’s just the way I’m wired.
Work was really busy leading up to this trip, which didn’t allow me the time I wanted to prepare. It was only two days before departure that I finally found the time to collect some maps and a list of things to see and do while on the ground, but there was trouble brewing all over the news: riots. In central Bangkok. Right where I would be staying. Apparently there is public opposition to the current head of government in Thailand, and things started to get ugly enough to make me rethink going on this trip at all. The airports at the resort cities were closing, but BKK was still open (but for how long)?
I decided to hold off on deciding whether or not to cancel the trip until the morning of my departure. Until then, I watched the news (and FlyerTalk) like a hawk, trying to asses as best I could what the mood was like in central Bangkok. Ultimately, it appeared from others on the ground that things were pretty much normal with only small pockets of rioting here and there, and it was the news media that was making this whole scenario more dramatic than it really was. I decided to take a chance and go.
Day 1 – Flying to Thailand
Despite finding the courage to ignore the news and go, I headed to the airport with a really bad feeling brewing inside of me. I knew that I’d be totally safe no matter what happens (it’s not like I was going into a war zone or anything), but the feeling of things going wrong was getting to me. Delayed flights, being stuck in Thailand for far longer than I planned, etc. But hey – I was feeling adventurous so I pushed on.
My flight itinerary was as follows:
8/30/08 Alaska Airlines San Diego to Portland – 737-400
8/30/08 Northwest Airlines Portland to Tokyo (Narita) – A330-200
8/31/08 Northwest Airlines Tokyo (Narita) to Bangkok – A330-200
The entire trip over to Thailand from San Diego was much easier than I thought it would be despite having to rough it out in economy. I really need to start making the effort to do these trips in business class! But I survived the 5 hour layover in PDX and the 13 hour haul to NRT, so the final 7 hour flight to BKK seemed easy by that point. I’m not going to lie though – stepping off that airplane in Thailand in the middle of the night was one of the best feelings ever. As much of an airplane nerd as I am, that was a lot of time spent in airports and airplanes over the last 24 hours.
Although I arrived at midnight, the airport was swarming with travelers and I had no problem hailing a taxi to my hotel. I think I got shafted on cab fare though. I paid 900 Baht plus tolls, but I seem to remember when I was doing research that 300 was considered fair. No matter though – I was simply happy to have arrived, and I was checked in and in bed by 1am.
Day 2 – My first day in Bangkok
I woke to the sound of beautiful rhythmic chanting at 6am from the temples on the city streets below, and I chose to stay in bed for a little while longer with the window curtains wide open so I could see the city come alive. I didn’t even turn on the news to see if anything had changed with all the political tension and rioting that had me worried so much over the previous few days. It was such a beautiful and peaceful morning out there, so I was just content to enjoy the view.
Right after breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I got my things together and went out for a stroll. My original thought was to wander up to the Grand Palace, but the roads were simply too confusing to figure out. I never found it, mainly because I didn’t feel like stressing out with my head in a map all day. But it wasn’t a completely wasted morning. I saw quite a bit, including a really eye-opening industrial machine-shop section of the city that looked pretty rough. It was simply fascinating from the standpoint of there being absolutely zero concern for cleanliness and safety. A far cry from the over-regulated US!
I quickly discovered the air pollution in central Bangkok is simply terrible. By far the worst I have ever experienced in my life.
But there were so many other things to appreciate and enjoy about this city. The smell of amazing street food captivated me as I wandered through the street markets near Wat Pho. I was determined to see the Grand Palace that morning, but I the heat was becoming overwhelming and I decided to catch a taxi up there after a short break back at the hotel to cool down with air conditioning and lots of water! I ended up drinking a full bottle and a half while nibbling on a piece of rambutan fruit, which seemed like a perfect way to relax in Thailand! There was even some thunder off in the distance at that point, but it didn’t stop me from getting back out there that afternoon and exploring more of the city.
Unfortunately, I never did get to see the Grand Palace. It turns out that you can’t get in without long pants on, and the taxi driver “forgot” to tell me that until right before we got there. Oh well – I didn’t want to see it that badly anyway. But I did get to see Wat Pho (and the Reclining Buddha), which was nearby. Yeah, it seemed very touristy, but it was interesting nonetheless. I spent the rest of the afternoon after that walking back to my hotel. It was a very long and hot walk. But I enjoyed it – there is something to see (and smell) on every street.
For dinner, I opted for room service (and ordered way too much food). It was insanely expensive too – I don’t even want to know how much it was. With tip, I’m guessing 1500 Baht. Ouch!
It was a very fun (and exhausting) first day in Bangkok, so it’s no surprise that I started having difficulty keeping my eyes open at around 730pm…
Day 3 – Exploring the city a bit more
My body clock was really messed up at this point, and I found myself wide awake at 3am. I never did fall back to sleep either, so I just lied in bed for a few hours thinking about the plans for the day. It turned out that there wasn’t anything particular that I wanted to see, so I thought about wandering up to the Silom area – supposedly there is a huge shopping center there in a vibrant part of the city.
Shortly after rolling out of bed, I turned on the TV only to discover that things have taken a turn for the worse in regards to the political unrest in the city. A state of emergency had been declared, which basically meant that the military had become involved. Now I was starting to worry. However, everything seemed normal looking out the window to the city below, and nobody in the hotel seemed concerned.
Things seemed normal as I was walking around during the day, so it’s not like the city had come to a grinding halt or anything. But that could come the following day, as bus and train services planned to strike. Basically, I was feeling a bit stressed and it was difficult to enjoy my last day in Bangkok. More than anything, I was feeling the urge to get out of there ASAP.
Adding to my anxiety was the air pollution. It’s really (really) bad in the city. The biggest problem is the motor bikes – they spew an incredible amount of shit into the air, and they are literally buzzing around everywhere. I really don’t understand how the locals can breathe that stuff all day every day, but sadly, I know that most don’t really have a choice. I do feel bad for them. The air is so far from healthy that it’s downright dangerous.
I ended up returning to my hotel room by mid afternoon to pack and prepare for an obscenely early (2am) taxi to the airport the following morning. Perhaps I was being overly paranoid, but I wanted to make sure to get out of the city before things got any worse and the taxi and bus systems shut down.
I did, however, order a huge amount of food for dinner again (room service). I shouldn’t have gone for the mango and sticky rice dessert, but when in Thailand…
Day 4 – An early exodus
Call me a worry-wart, but I arrived at BKK at 3am for my 6am flight to NRT. With all the political tension going in Bangkok at the moment, I was nervous about running into delays getting to the airport. But it wasn’t a problem, and looking back on it, I realize that I was overly paranoid about the entire situation. I could have easily arrived at the airport two hours later without any issues.
My flight itinerary for the trip home was as follows:
9/3/08 Northwest Airlines Bangkok to Tokyo (Narita) – A330-200
9/3/08 Northwest Airlines Tokyo (Narita) to Los Angeles – 747-400
9/3/08 American Eagle Los Angeles to San Diego – Saab 340
In the end, I’m thankful I didn’t see anything related to the riots and protests while I strolled about the city. Everything seemed normal as far as I could tell. But still, it was a black cloud hanging over my head, and I was kind of stressing out about getting stuck here for a while. I know that I would have enjoyed my trip a hell of a lot more if all that wasn’t on my mind.
So…now I can say that I’ve been to Bangkok. Did I like it? Yeah – I guess. It definitely wasn’t my favorite place I’ve ever been, mostly because of all the air pollution. But the city has a lot of character, and the people are incredibly friendly. It wasn’t the most walkable city either, and the roads simply made no sense. Using a map was useless. But hey – that’s what makes Bangkok what it is. I would like to return some day and explore some more parts of the city that I didn’t get to see. I’d also like to get out of the city and explore the rest of the country. I’m sure it’s as beautiful as the pictures show.